Building on its storied past, Belfast invites
Since its tragic sinking in the North Atlantic just days after a much-ballyhooed launch toward New York, Titanic fascinates us more than a century later. But an oft-overlooked chapter of the iconic ship's story is what happened before its first – and final – voyage.
That changed in 2012 with the opening of Titanic Belfast, a world-class tribute to the Northern Ireland capital and its shipbuilding heritage. Belfast was indeed a boomtown, enjoying its position as a world leader in shipbuilding, engineering, and rope and linen manufacturing.
Today, the city has built on its early 20th-century clout and now enjoys success in the arts, higher education and, of course, tourism.
The story behind the story
Rising six stories high, Titanic Belfast strikes a formidable profile. Three thousand silver anodized-aluminum shards clad the exterior, which resembles the bows of five ships, three of which are meant to represent White Star Line's Olympic-class ships: Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic. The five bows – when viewed from the air – create a star, a nod to White Star.
Nine interpretive and interactive galleries push Titanic Belfast beyond a mere museum. Computer-generated imagery, film and video, archival materials, and scale models bring the story to life.
Visitors ascend the Arrol Gantry, a 70-foot-tall replica of the steel crane system used to build Titanic and Olympic, then head toward the 228-foot-high Shipyard Ride, which gives an appreciation for the sheer scale of the ship and for the number of workers and materials needed to complete it. A 3-D walk-through “cave” replicates Titanic's corridors. The ship's launch, maiden voyage, sinking, and subsequent status as legend are also covered. In the final gallery, visitors walk over the re-created debris field showing Titanic's final resting place 12,450 feet below sea level.
Titanic Belfast is the centerpiece of the city's Titanic Quarter, an urban waterfront development located on Queen's Island along the River Lagan. The Titanic Quarter also holds other important historical sites connected to Titanic: the Titanic and Olympic slipways; Titanic's Dock and Pump-House; the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices; and the Nomadic, White Star's last surviving vessel. The Titanic Quarter is also home to one of Europe's largest film facilities, Titanic Studios, where many scenes from the HBO hit series Game of Thrones are shot.
Part of Belfast's charm is its easily walkable downtown, where a myriad of treasures are located. The Cathedral Quarter borrows its name from the Church of Ireland's St. Anne's Cathedral, a 1904 church decorated with exquisite mosaics, textiles, carvings, and other artifacts.
Belfast City Hall opened in 1906 following Queen Victoria's 1888 conferment of the title of “city” to Belfast. The opulent building reflects the city's prosperity during its shipbuilding heyday.
Crown Liquor Saloon, which dates to the 1820s, brings together all the elements of a classic pub, such as elaborate woodwork, intricate mosaic tiles, gas lamps that still work, and decorated ceilings. Stop in for a pint or for dinner.
One of the Cathedral Quarter's most famous monuments, the 113-foot Albert Memorial Clock is a Gothic sandstone tower designed by W.J. Barre, the architect of Ulster Hall, a concert venue opened in 1862 that's also located downtown.
Popping up among the city's historical buildings are two noteworthy modern treasures. Art, dance, music, and theater come together at the MAC, Belfast's world-class arts venue, which opened in 2012. The Victoria Square Shopping Centre has more than 800,00 square feet of retail space. When Victoria Square arrived in 2008, downtown Belfast's shopping offerings increased by one-third.
The Botanic Gardens in the Queen's Quarters was established in 1828 to promote the interest of horticulture and botany, and many original trees and plants are still there. The site's crown jewel, the Victorian-era Palm House, is a curved-iron-and-glass house that allows botanists to experiment with exotic plants and flowers.
Inspired by historical and cultural events, as well as political and religious divisions, several of Belfast's famous murals can be found in the Gaeltacht Quarter, where barriers known as “peace lines” were erected to separate conflicting groups during “the Troubles,” which lasted from the 1960s to 1990s.
With so many choices offered to visitors, Northern Ireland's capital is ready for you to explore.
Monica Reid Olson is web editor of Home & Away magazine.
November/December 2015 Issue
A bit of Titanic history closer to home
The Titanic Museum in Branson, Mo., is hard to miss on The Strip (Highway 76); it resembles the legendary ship.
Fans of the Titanic legend often report the museum's collections are hard to beat, and next year, an exciting artifact will come to the museum in Branson, as well as the Pigeon Forge, Tenn., location.
The violin played by the ship's bandleader, Wallace Hartley, will be on view in Branson from March 7 – May 29. From there, it moves to Pigeon Forge June 5 – Aug. 14.
Found strapped to Hartley's body after the sinking, the violin was returned to his grieving fiancée, only to be lost until purchased at auction in 2013 for $1.7 million by an anonymous European owner.
For details on the museum, call (800) 381-7672 or visit www.titanicattraction.com.
Above: Branson's Titanic Museum on The Strip. Branson CVB photo
Below: Wallace Hartley's violin sold for $1.7 million at auction. Titanic Museum Attractions photo
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